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May 11, 2012

Microsoft takes Bing social

Closer integration with Facebook - but will changes be enough to regain market share from Google?

By Steve Evans

bing social

Microsoft has unveiled its latest attempt to regain search engine market share from Google, by making Bing more social.

The revamp means results will now include results from Facebook and other social networks such as Twitter. Microsoft says the thinking behind this is that, "90% of people consult with a friend or expert before making a decision."

Microsoft has dubbed the updates the "most significant" to Bing since its launch three years ago. As well as deeper Facebook integration the search engine will also receive a makeover.

The new version of Bing introduces a three column design. On the left will be the traditional search results column and the centre of the page will feature what Microsoft is calling a "snapshot". This will be information such as reviews, maps and reservations if the user has searched for hotels, restaurants or something similar. Microsoft will be integrating with sites like OpenTable and FanSnap for this section of the results page.

Over on the right hand side on the page will be where the social element comes in. If a user is signed into Facebook when searching on Bing, results will also include information from the social network.

Bing will search through information that is publicly available on a user’s profile and the information that their friends would see if looking at the user’s profile. It will then display relevant information in the sidebar. Users can also "tag" friends into an answer if Bing believes they may know about the subject, based on their likes, profile information and any photos they have shared.

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"For example, if you’re searching for diving spots in Costa Rica, with the new Bing, you may discover that one of your Facebook friends knows a great spot, based on photos from their last trip to Costa Rica that they shared on Facebook. Or you might find a friend who lives in Costa Rica based on his or her Facebook profile," Derrick Connell, corporate vice president, Bing and Harry Shum, corporate vice president, Bing R&D wrote on a blog.

The social integration goes beyond Facebook, with Twitter, Foursquare, Quora, LinkedIn, Google+ and Blogger also included.

Microsoft desperately needs Bing to be a viable alternative to Google’s search behemoth. It was launched in May 2009 with an estimated $100m marketing budget and even now Microsoft is losing around $500m every quarter in its online division, largely due to Bing’s poor performance.

According to recent figures Bing has failed to make any significant impact on Google’s search dominance. Worldwide market share currently has Google on 81%, with Bing registering just 4.36%. The figures are slightly better for Microsoft in the US, with Bing closing in on 11% market share, still way behind Google on 76%. In the UK, Google claims around 89% of the search engine market, with Bing back on just under 5%.

Microsoft and Facebook enjoy a close relationship, partly due to a 1.6% stake the Redmond-based firm bought in Facebook for $240m in 2007.

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